You’ve taken the time to a bathroom tile material, but the tile finish you choose is equally important to the overall aesthetic. Plus, you’d probably be surprised by how many tile finishes there are to pick from.
A tile finish is created by treating the tile material with a glaze, polish, or another process that affects the overall design. Stone tile finishes include polished, satin, honed and brushed. Ceramic and porcelain tile finishes include glossy, matte and multi-fired.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through the diverse world of bathroom tile finishes. You’ll learn what sets each of these finishes apart as well as some of their advantages and disadvantages.
Before we get started, you may want to download my free bathroom tile calculator. It will help you plan your project and budget effectively. Just fill out this form and I’ll send it to your inbox.
What Are Tile Finishes?
The finish on a tile is an effect applied to the tile’s top surface to change its appearance. Some finishes can only be applied to certain materials. The more intense the finishing process, the smoother and higher shine on the tile. (Are you thinking, Wait! I don’t even know what tile I’m going to use! If yes, read my post 17 Beautiful Tile Materials and then come back here.)
In this post we’ll look at finishes for tiles made from man-made materials such as ceramic and porcelain tiles, as well as natural tiles like stone, travertine, onyx and granite.
Top Finishes for Man-Made Tiles
Porcelain and ceramic are the two most common types of man-made tiles used in most home bathrooms. They are classic, iconic, and respected for their water resistance and wide range of stylistic variety.
While both porcelain and ceramic are made from a mixture of water, sand and clay, porcelain may also include other ingredients like quartz, feldspar, cement. It is less porous and fired in the kiln at a much higher temperature than ceramic.
As a result, porcelain is a tougher, more durable tile material and can be used on floors.
You can finish tiles made from either material in a broad array of ways. Also, you can leave ceramic or porcelain unglazed, but then it is susceptible to water damage and should definitely be sealed.
Glazing, on the other hand, makes the tiles waterproof and easy to clean. Before they are fired, glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles are coated in silica to create a unique colored finish.
When fired, the silica melts to form a layer of delicate glass that can come in a range of options, including matte, textured, and glossy.
There are other finishing processes besides glazing that can be used to give ceramic and porcelain tiles a unique and beautiful look. Let’s take a look at all of the options:
Unglazed Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles
Many homeowners prefer to use simple unfinished porcelain or ceramic tiles.
These tiles are fired without an added glaze and then sold as-is. They create a wonderful rustic appearance, similar to what you’d find in an old Italian farmhouse or a Spanish patio. However, they come with a few setbacks.
Unfinished ceramic isn’t water-resistant. Although it provides some layer or protection, ceramic is made from porous, loose-grained clay that absorbs a small amount of water. Unfinished porcelain, on the other hand, is more water-resistant but also more expensive.
Matte Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles (Glazed)
Tiles with a matte finish are glazed with no-sheen silica, which gives them a flat, non-reflective finish that’s perfect for a modern, minimalist aesthetic.
Matte tiles are often better at concealing smudges, making them perfect for flooring. Compared to glossy tiles, you won’t have to clean them as often to remove soap stains.
These are a good choice for bathroom floors since they aren’t as slippery as many other porcelain and ceramic tile finishes.
Glossy Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles (Glazed)
Glossy tiles are coated with a high-sheen appearance. They often look similar to polished ceramic titles, but they’re finished using a different process and as a result, they’re less expensive too.
These tiles are so effective at repelling water that many swimming pools even use glossy ceramic tiles. Glossy ceramic or porcelain tiles are a great choice if you’re considering replacing the tile around your tub or shower.
But high-gloss tile can be slippery when wet, so it may not be the best choice for your bathroom floor.
Textured Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles (Glazed)
If you’re looking for a ceramic or porcelain-glazed tile that will have great underfoot grip, you’ll want to consider textured tile.
These tiles are usually made by adding sand and grit to the matte glaze, which creates an anti-slip finish.
Textured and anti-slip ceramic tiles are a smart choice for the flooring in and around your shower. They provide a similar amount of grip as tumbled stone tiles and can help prevent falls.
Polished Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles (Glazed or Unglazed)
Polished ceramic tiles are fired twice—first to set a color and then again with a clear coat that locks in the pattern or design.
After being twice fired, the ceramic is sturdy enough to pass through a diamond polishing wheel where it takes on a beautiful natural sheen. Once polished, the tiles are then sealed to lock in their beauty. They have a high-sheen appearance and can be bought glazed or unglazed.
Ceramic tiles with a polished finish can be made to look like natural stone while being far less expensive.
Lappato Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles
Lappato tiles go through a similar polishing process as polished tiles but without being processed enough to create the same high-sheen luster. Instead, they retain a slightly uneven texture that’s aesthetically pleasing and often used for backsplashes and walls.
These tiles retain enough natural texture to provide underfoot grip while also giving off a slight reflective sheen. Use them in your bathroom to imitate stone and for their unique texture.
Top Finishes for Stone Tiles
Homeowners often choose stone tiles for their organic durability and all-natural aesthetic. Stone tiles are also more likely to raise your home’s resale value than porcelain or ceramic tiles.
Stone tiles can be made from quartz, limestone, travertine, marble, sandstone, granite and slate. Finishes start with all-natural (no finish) and progress through tumbled (a slight finishing) all the way through to polished (intense finishing).
While all-natural tile appears the most rustic, you progressively get a more contemporary appearance as the finish is more polished. Also, the sheen, or ability of the tile to reflect light, increases.
All-natural stone tiles are porous. However, the more intense the finishing process, the less porous the tiles become. All stone tiles still require sealing to keep out moisture and prevent bathroom mold.
|FINISH||LEAST PROCESSED TO MOST (0-5)||APPEARANCE/QUALITIES||NO SHEEN-HIGH SHEEN (0-5)||LEAST WATER-RESISTANT - MOST (0-5)|
|Natural Stone Tile||0||Rustic, Earthy||0||0|
|Tumbled Stone Tile||1||Unique, Raw Edges Near Grout, Rustic||1||1|
|Brushed Stone Tile||2||Orange-Peel Texture, Scratch-Resistant||2||2|
|Honed Stone Tile||3||Smooth Matte Texture, Modern||3||3|
|Satin Stone Tile||4||Soft Texture, Easy to Clean, Common on Floor||4||4|
|Polished Stone Tile||5||Contemporary, Shiny, Upscale Lok||5||5|
Let’s take a look at some of the more common finishes for stone tiles:
Natural Finished Stone Tiles
Natural finished stone tiles are exactly what they sound like—raw, unadulterated stone.
Natural stone tiles are made by simply cutting rock into the shape of a tile. They’re not polished, processed or made uniform in any way, so you can see the true character of each unique stone.
Because they haven’t been processed, these tiles remain porous and susceptible to water damage and mildew. So you’ll need to apply a tile sealer, which is a simple process, to keep your natural stone pristine.
Tumbled Stone Tiles
Tumbled stone tiles take texture to the next level. To create more texture, manufacturers place stone tiles in a large drum filled with loose stone aggregate.
As the drums spin and tumble around, the debris wears away softer parts of the tile, digging out a uniquely rough surface with round edges.
Tumbled stone tiles have more texture than any other finish. They can give an earthy, all-natural feeling to a shower. Notice that the edges near the grout are sometimes missing, giving a completely unique character to every the tiles.
Brushed Stone Tiles
Brushing stone tiles has the opposite effect of polishing. Rather than smoothing out texture, brushing involves running the rock under a steel comb.
Brushed stone tiles have more texture than polished tiles, giving more underfoot grip. However, brushed stone tiles are more likely than polished stone tiles to retain water, potentially leading to mildew. The overall look is more rustic than contemporary.
Honed Stone Tiles
Unlike natural stone, a honed tile finish creates a uniform texture across the tile surfaces. Honing involves grinding down the stones to remove bumps and ridges to create a matte appearance and smooth texture.
Honed stone tiles are often used in showers for their low-reflectivity and chic, modern aesthetic. Although stone tiles with a honed finish are very easy to clean, you can’t use regular soap on them. Honed tiles are also scratch-resistant.
Satin Stone Tiles
Satin tiles are cast from durable rock, such as slate, and then passed through a series of polishing wheels.
However, unlike polished stone tiles, satin tiles do not go through the same intense polishing process. Instead, they only pass through a couple of wheels. This creates a smooth, soft texture that’s luxurious to the touch with a light sheen.
Satin stone tiles are often used for flooring, where you can appreciate the soft, velvety feel of polished rock. These tiles are also prized for being naturally resistant to mildew since the polishing process removes the pores that can hold onto moisture.
Polished Stone Tiles
Polished stone tiles are first cast from a durable rock, such as granite or marble, and then passed through a series of wheels to buff and polish the stone.
As the stone passes through the polishing wheels, it’s sprayed with water and the polishing wheels become progressively finer-grained. By the time the stone is finished, it’s incredibly smooth and shiny, and by this point in the process, the stone has become stain and mildew-resistant.
You’ll most often see polished stone tiles that are marble. Thanks to its incredible hardness, marble can withstand an intense polishing process without snapping.
Polishing also helps bring out marble’s natural swirled texture. Polished stone tiles are often used for vanities and backsplashes, where you can appreciate the fine shimmer of stone. Read my post about marble, quartz and granite bathroom vanities.
Sealing Your Bathroom Tile and Grout
Depending on the type of finish you choose, you may or may not need to seal your tile. But you will most likely need to seal the grout between the tiles no matter what.
The sealing process is easy and not a big deal, so don’t let it deter you from choosing a tile finish that you love. Here is a quick overview of what tile finishes need to be sealed:
|SEAL||Porous, Unglazed Tile||Cement & Sand Grout|
|DON'T SEAL||Glossy, Glazed Tile||Epoxy-Based Grout (Sealing is Optional)|
For much more, read Don’t Forget the Sealer! A Tile and Grout Guide.
Bathroom Tile Finishes—Far from Mundane
As you can see, bathroom tiles are far more complex than you might assume. Before you settle on a finish, consider whether you want stone or ceramic tiles and then go through the pros and cons of available finishes.
Some finishes will provide more texture, while others create more shine. Your final decision will affect your bathroom’s overall aesthetic.
Remember, your bathroom design can include a combination of tile and other materials to create a textured look.
For more help with choosing bathroom tile, read 21 Tips for Perfect Bathroom Tile. This ultimate guide resource tells you everything you ever need to know about bathroom tile materials, colors, sizes, waterproofing, and much, much more.
And be sure to use my FREE Bathroom Tile Calculator. It will help you plan exactly how much tile to order and what it will cost for your bathroom remodeling project. Just fill out the form below and I’ll send it to your inbox.